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World Refugee Day 2005: Message by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres

World Refugee Day 2005: Message by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres

15 June 2005

Sixteen-year old Farihalh hardly misses school despite her numerous daily chores. Farihalh wants to become "Minister of Darfur", the region she and her family escaped in 2004.

Over the past five and a half decades, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has had the privilege and the responsibility of helping more than 50 million uprooted people worldwide rebuild their lives. Throughout UNHCR's proud history, we have been constantly inspired by the incredible courage of the refugees we help and protect.

While every refugee's story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage - the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.

That is why we have chosen "Courage" as the theme of this year's World Refugee Day on June 20th, when we pay tribute to the indomitable spirit of tens of millions of refugees and displaced who have overcome enormous loss and hardship to start anew.

Fortunately, most of us go through life never having to confront the kind of fear that forces people - ordinary people just like us - to flee. Leaving behind everything that is familiar, everything that is dear, refugees face an uncertain future in unfamiliar surroundings. Imagine the courage it takes to face the prospect of months, years, or possibly even a lifetime, in exile.

And yet - against all odds - refugees refuse to give up hope. At the U.N. refugee agency, our job is to provide the protection that gives them hope for a brighter future. Today, in 115 countries, including some of the most difficult places on Earth, 6,000 UNHCR staff are seeking lasting solutions for more than 19 million refugees and other people of concern. I pay tribute to their commitment and to the dedication shown by all of our NGO partners who do so much to help the uprooted around the world - often at great personal sacrifice.

We live in challenging times and this is particularly true for refugees and the displaced. Conflicts today often target entire civilian populations, forcing them into flight. Many arrive at our camps with nothing and suffering serious trauma - particularly women, children and the elderly. On average, women and children make up about three-quarters of any refugee population. Providing special help and support to these vulnerable groups must be a priority in any emergency situation and is a key component of UNHCR's overall refugee protection work.

Unfortunately, however, finding safety in today's world is becoming increasingly difficult. While developing countries least able to afford it host most of the world's refugees, many industrialised nations continue to impose ever stricter controls on asylum. All of us bear a responsibility for ensuring that those genuinely in need of international protection receive it.

The international community must also do more for the world's estimated 20-25 million internally displaced persons - people who have fled their homes, generally because of conflict or persecution, but who remain in their country of origin and therefore are not legally classified as refugees. Obviously, such legal distinctions make little sense to those internally displaced civilians who have been forced from their homes and who face the same problems as refugees. As part of a collaborative U.N. effort, UNHCR currently includes more than 5.6 million internally displaced persons among its 19.2 million people of concern.

Once their immediate needs are met, UNHCR pursues one of three durable solutions for refugees. The preferred solution is repatriation - voluntarily returning home once the necessary conditions are in place. Second is local integration in the country of first asylum. And last is resettlement to a third country, possibly far away from one's native land. Whether returning to your devastated homeland or starting life anew in a strange country, embarking on any one of these solutions also takes real courage. Yet millions of refugees are making these brave choices, rebuilding their homelands or bringing new life, vitality and rich cultural diversity to their adopted communities.

Thus, on this World Refugee Day, let us take time to recognize and draw inspiration from these ordinary people who have shown such extraordinary courage - the world's millions of refugees and displaced.

Thank you.